By Dave Goodyear, Producer Research & Impact Manager, Fairtrade Foundation
The global thirst for coffee seems unquenchable. A new commodity briefing released today by the Fairtrade Foundation explores how consumption has almost doubled over the last 40 years, with demand now being led by the emerging economies of Brazil, India and Eastern Europe. So why are smallholder coffee farmers still struggling to make a living?
Global consumption of coffee has almost doubled to 8 million tonnes over the last 40 years, contributing $23.5bn of vital foreign exchange to coffee exporting countries in 2011 alone. But most of the money from the retail coffee trade – worth $71bn globally last year – is made by a relatively small number of companies in consuming countries that manufacture and market the coffee we buy in our shops and cafés.
The 25 million smallholders who grow 80 per cent of the world’s coffee are still failing to secure a fair share of the wealth generated by their labour. They are at the bottom of the supply chain, with little power to negotiate a decent price from the local traders who buy their coffee. Coffee farmers typically live on less than $2 a day, located in remote rural communities without adequate access to decent housing, clean water, electricity, education or healthcare.
Steady growth in demand for coffee should mean better times ahead for farmers. But decades of low and unstable coffee prices have left a legacy of indebted farmers who lack the technical support and finance to invest in improving productivity and quality, leaving them ill-equipped to take advantage of the opportunities now being presented. Younger generations who see no future in growing coffee are abandoning agriculture in search of better paid work elsewhere.
And now coffee farmers must adapt to the increasing and unpredictable effects of climate change. The spread of pests and disease, higher temperatures, erratic rains or periods of drought are disrupting production, while some areas may become unsuitable for growing coffee altogether.
With the very real risk of shortages on the horizon, the coffee industry must actively support farmers to meet these challenges. Many companies recognise that Fairtrade can be part of the solution by providing additional income for farmers to invest in more sustainable farming practices, planting drought- and pest- resistant varieties, improving the efficiency of their businesses and implementing projects that benefit the wider community. By helping to ensure decent incomes for farmers, companies can also help ensure their businesses will have a long-term supply of quality coffee.
Image ©Simon Rawles. Jennipher Wattaka (Left) de-pulping coffee in Uganda.